July and the end of Ramazan

Hope this is a happy holiday weekend for all of the USA!

I am back in Istanbul. With somewhat limited funds and limited time I skipped Budapest. An adventure for the future, though. Bucharest was OK. Perhaps I needed a better plan to explore the city because I felt I didn’t really see the beauty of it. Not a horrible trip, but not very memorable. Think I will investigate the price of flights for future trips into Europe and skip the train. I plan to meet my dear friend, Kathy in October, perhaps in Serbia. The long train/bus trip really wore me out. I got in yesterday morning around 8am after traveling since noon the day before. The old Orient Express is not what it used to be. I slept most of the day and all of the night, waking up to do laundry, shower and eat. I almost feel human.

I now have three friends considering hiking the Camino with me next spring. Rather excited and surprised as I just assumed that I would be all alone on this trek. Of course, it is a long way off still and the plans may not work out for all of us. I feel lucky to have y any of them consider hiking with me. And not a whiner in the bunch. These long distance trails turn out to be more of a social experience than you’d think, and it would be nice to share memories.

This morning I walked to the sea and dipped my fingers into the water. It’s warm enough to swim and I think I may just do that tomorrow, after class. Wonder if I can find a snorkel and goggles? Love to see what’s down there. (Later I did get a snorkel. Never doing that again. Filthy water. I took an extra-long shower.)

Last week, with my Migros Card, I got a whole chicken for 1TL! (Migros is a local grocery) Last night I roasted it with onions, carrots and potatoes. Last night I picked the carcass, not too clean, and boiled it for broth with some herbs and half a lemon. This morning I strained it and I’m letting it cool to skim. It should be soup by tomorrow or the next day. I already have veggies cut up and frozen from an earlier excursion to the weekly market. Yum!

Ramadan is almost over and I’ll be glad to see the end of it. My neighbors seem to sleep all day and are awake and partying all night. Even the children are playing in the streets–loudly calling each other at 1am. Last night I went out on the terrace and told them to stop bouncing their ball on the wall of my apartment just outside my window. The sounds of laughter, arguing (there is SO much arguing!) and talking bounce off the tile which faces most buildings. It is almost impossible to sleep. Percussive sounds, like forks hitting plates or dishes being knocked together as they are washed and stacked, are particularly annoying. For those who venture out during the day, I find their bodies and breath especially pungent. I assume it is the keytones released when someone is fasting. The bodies of the men are strong but their breath is so much worse. The MetroBus is almost unbearable some mornings.

Bayram is a religious holiday and the entire Ramazan is a holy (lunar) month. The last four days is especially festive, called Seker Bayam (sugar holiday) and so the school is closed for four days. Of course, I wasn’t informed of this until the week before–no way to plan ahead! But communication is an afterthought, particularly to foreign teachers. Still, Shelley and I found an inexpensive package to Paris! For $550 U.S. each, we have round trip air and 4nights in a hotel near the Eiffel Tower. (I’ve posted my Paris pictures already)

Speaking of communication, I was called with 24-hours notice to come to the head office in Taksim (more than an hour away) to sign some papers for my work permit. We were asked to bring a photo–no information on the photo size, no consideration as to my teaching schedule. And when I got there, I found the head office had moved! Why don’t they mention these things? When I finally found the new building, a secretary thrust a three page document in front of me. It was in Turkish. She spoke no English and I have no idea what I signed. In theory, it is for my work permit, which I need.

Two nights ago, Trudy was packing to leave on a trip to Copenhagen. We heard a loud pop and our hallway filled with acrid smoke. I open the door to the stairway and could see that the entire building had no power. Lots of voices called “Tamom, tamom!” (Ok, ok!) so I didn’t worry much, but was still concerned about the white smoke (bayaz durman) that had come from the breaker box. One breaker was blown and I switched it back on. In 20 minutes the rest of the building had power, but not our apartment. We went upstairs to the landlord, “guc yok, elektrik yok.” (No power, no electric). Trudy needed to leave for her trip, so I was left with the issue. There was a parade of men in and out of our door until 11pm. I got a good look at the wiring and am surprised that we hadn’t had issues earlier–a tangle of extra-long wires and WAY too much exposed copper! Finally someone who actually seemed to know some electrical information got the lights on. He shortened wires to an appropriate length and put proper electrical ties on them. Phew! He even fixed a hall light that had never worked. But he didn’t get the power to the hot water heater going. The landlord said they would be back tomorrow. My shower that evening was short!

The next day I had to work but was home by 2:30p as I had promised. But no one came. At 5pm, I went to the landlord again. “Aksamlar” (evening), he said. But no one came. Another cold shower and laundry done in cold water. This morning I had to leave for Paris. I left a note in Turkish and a key for the landlord asking that the power be fixed before I am back on Sunday. We will see.

You can see my Paris Photos here.

Ramazan and bacon, glorious bacon

bacon and eggs--my first in months!
bacon and eggs–my first in months!

Today I had the most successful shopping trip so far in Turkey: I FOUND BACON! This is a Muslim country folks. Pork simply isn’t available at the corner store. It took 4 hours and five metro transfers (transfers are not free, BTW) to get to the store that caters to westerners and back to my apartment. The cost was astronomical: 100TL or about $36 US. That’s roughly 5% of my monthly pay. Totally worth it, too. You can get cured beef (dana) and sheep, but it is soooooo not the same as pork belly.

The other day I had a reading in class that mentioned that someone had bacon and eggs for breakfast. Not one of my students had ever even heard of the word before. So I wrote on the board: “pig meat = pork. Bacon is a type of pork.” The look of horror on my students’ faces was comical to me, but I dared not even smile. I explained that non-Muslims often ate pork and that bacon was one of my favorite foods. They were obviously seeing a side of their teacher that they hadn’t expected. We then went on to learn another vocabulary word: forbidden. Always a teaching moment!

Today is the first day of Ramazan (Ramadan to most of the Muslim world). Technically it started at sundown yesterday. Observant followers of Islam fast from sunup to sundown. A lunar holiday, the month long celebration moves each year. It is particularly difficult when it falls in the middle of the summer—the longest and hottest days. Not even water is allowed to pass your lips. According to Ramadan Mubarak:

“It was during the month of Ramadan that the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel. One of the five pillars or key practices of this faith tradition is to fast during this month from the time just before sunrise until just after sunset. During the fast, total abstinence is required from food, drink (including water), smoking or consumption of tobacco, sexual intercourse, and any form of negativity — backbiting, fighting, cursing, arguing and similar behaviors. Muslims rise before dawn for a breakfast, fast through the day, and then break the fast first with dates (which Muhammad ate) and then a light meal with family and friends.

This is also a time of intensified spiritual practice. In addition to the five times a day prayer, a longer Tajweed prayer is said nightly, and sometimes prayer extends hours into the night. Many Muslims also read the Qur’an cover to cover during Ramadan. Doing good deeds and making charitable contributions are also recommended.”

And with that in mind, what am I doing? I’m eating a late breakfast of BACON and sunny-side-up eggs fried in bacon grease. Trust me, this is not a political statement. This is just the breakfast of a woman who has not tasted bacon for nine months and two continents. It reminds me of last summer, hiking the AT, when the only foods that excited me were shelf stable bacon and instant mashed potatoes. Not an inspiring cuisine. Certainly not a healthy one. But old friend, I have missed you so! This isn’t the best bacon I’ve ever had. It’s certainly not free range, thick cut, maple-smoked. But it’s bacon. It will do.

We’ve been reminded not to bring food or water into the classroom during evening classes, which start at 7p. Usually we take a 10 minute break each hour, but during Ramazan, we combine all the breaks into one. We stop class a few minutes before sundown (so the break time changes by a minute or so each day) and let the students have 30 minutes to break their fast. Many students will not return after the break, I’m sure.

This is just a couple blocks from my apartment. The man is sorting wool.
This is just a couple blocks from my apartment. The man is sorting wool.

I’m still getting organized here at the new apartment. Today I bought a sweeper and some rolling shelves. The place isn’t really set up to live in–I’m still on a futon couch and I have no place to hang clothes. Unfortunately, with the extra items I’ve bought for the kitchen and house, plus the very expensive trip yesterday to the “Western” grocery store, I’m almost broke. Since I was just paid Monday, that’s pretty bad. I have, of course, set aside my rent and utilities and put money on my Metro card and phone. The fridge is stocked for a week or so. But there isn’t much left over for the month now. Teachers are poorly paid.